Melissa A. Barnett, Ph.D.

Norton Endowed Chair in Fathers, Parenting and Families
Fitch Nesbitt Associate Professor
Family Studies and Human Development
650 N Park Ave
Tucson, Arizona 85721-0078
(520) 621-4738

My research is motivated by my experiences as an elementary school teacher in an economically disadvantaged community in New Orleans. My students and their families inspired me to conduct research focused on informing the development of interventions and policies to support positive child development in high-risk, low-income communities. In particular, I was struck by the resilient outcomes of some students who thrived despite the odds, and by the extensive involvement of multiple family members in the lives of young children. My goal is to understand how to leverage these strengths to conduct research to inform policy and program development that ultimately improves the life chances of caregivers and young children from economically disadvantaged communities. In addition, I am interested in understanding how culture shapes parenting, family relationships, and child development.

***I will be accepting graduate students for Fall 2020 admission.***


Areas of Expertise

  • Family relationships and early childhood development
  • Poverty and child and parent wellbeing
  • Sociocultural influences on parenting and child development
  • Grandparent-grandchild relationships
  • Extended family relationships

Research Focus

Broadly, my research program considers how individual characteristics and larger cultural and socioeconomic contexts influence caregiver well-being, parenting and coparenting behaviors, early teacher-child relationships, and early childhood development. My focus is on identification of family strengths among disadvantaged families.

Specifically, my research focuses on understanding how caregivers, including parents, support network members, grandmothers and teachers,  influence young children directly through interactions with children, and indirectly through relationships with each other. Considering other family members or adults who play significant support and caregiving roles is especially relevant to child development in disadvantaged and ethnic minority communities.



Current Projects

Child Care Factors that Influence Parental Engagement: Understanding Longitudinal Pathways to Children’s School Readiness. This secondary data analysis project was funded by the Administration for Children and Families.Collaborators include Christina Cutshaw (College of Public Health, UA), Ann Mastergeorge (Texas Tech University), and Katherine Paschall (Child Trends).

Family Processes and Child Development Among Low-Income, Unmarried Families. We are currently engaged in a series of projects related to a secondary data analysis grant focusing on the transition to parenthood for predominantly low-income, unmarried couples. The focus of these projects include fathers' parenting, understanding how family and contextual factors influence young children's development, and examination of how the quality of multiple family relationships (e.g., parenting, coparenting, parental romantic relationships) jointly impact adult and child wellbeing. Collaborators include Melissa Curran (Family Studies and Human Development, UA) and current and former graduate students.

Grandparenting In the 21st Century. The goal of this project is to understand the experiences and wellbeing of grandparents who are highly involved in raising their grandchildren. Collaborators are Loriena Yancura (University of Hawaii) and Danielle Nadorff (Mississippi State University).

Subjects Taught

  • Men, Fatherhood and Families (undergraduate)
  • Infant and Child Development (undergraduate)
  • Problems in Child and Adolescent Development (undergraduate)
  • Theories of Human Development (graduate)
  • Parent-Child Relationships (graduate)

Select Publications

Please contact Dr. Melissa Barnett if you are unable to locate one of the publications listed below. Please see the CV for a complete list of publications.

Mortensen, J.M. & Barnett, M.A. (2018). Negative parenting, emotion regulation, and child care quality for high-risk infants and toddlers in child care. Early Education and Development, 29(2), 143-160.

Barnett, M.A. & Scaramella, L.V. (2017). Supportive and intrusive parenting during early childhood: Relations with children’s fear temperament and sex. Journal of Family Psychology, 31, 553-562.

Paschall, K., Barnett, M.A., Mortensen, J.M. & Mastergeorge, A. (2017). Family conflict moderates early parent-child behavioral transactions. Infant Mental Health Journal, 38, 588-601.

Barnett, M.A., Mortensen, J. & Gonzalez, H. (2016).  Grandmother involvement and maternal psychological distress among Mexican origin families with young children. Journal of Family Issues, 37, 1945-1967.

Barnett, M.A., Mortensen, J.A., Gonzalez, H., Gonzalez, J.M. (2016). Cultural factors moderating links between neighborhood disadvantage and parenting and coparenting among Mexican origin Families.  Child Care and Youth Forum, 45, 927-945.


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